For Jews in France, 'plus ca change'
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators shout ''Death to the Jews'' during the riot at the Rue de la Roquette on 13 July
By Lyn Julius
The Jews of France are reeling. It''s been a month that they would rather forget. Although all European Jewish communities have been affected, the French community has, since the outbreak of the Gaza war, seen a larger spike in violence than most. Eight synagogues were attacked in a week.
Jews in France no longer feel secure. Four times as many Jews as last year are leaving the country to move to Israel. Newsweek''s lead story is "Exodus: they''re fleeing once again".
Antisemitic attacks have been on the rise for some time, culminating in the murders of Sebastien Selam and Ilan Halimi ; the Toulouse massacre of three Jewish children and a rabbi; the gunning down of four people at the Brussels Jewish museum by a French jihadi returning from Syria. All these atrocities have shaken the 500,000-strong community to the core. They have been taking their children out of public schools, moving to ''safer'' areas of Paris, and choosing more Jew-friendly universities.
On 13 July 2014, Jews narrowly escaped a pogrom as an angry mob of pro-Palestinian supporters funnelled down the rue de la Roquette in Paris. The JDL (Jewish Defence League) improvised a line of defence until police reinforcements arrived. Some media accused the vigilantes of provoking the violence, but their actions probably saved Jewish worshippers, barricaded inside the synagogue, from being lynched.
A week later, a rampaging mob of 400 threw firebombs at a synagogue, a pharmacy and a kosher butcher in Sarcelles - a suburb of Paris where North African Jews and Muslims live cheek by jowl.
But French Jews, who mostly hail from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, are also experiencing a sense of deja-vu. Bernard Abouaf, a journalist of Tunisian-Jewish descent who witnessed the Rue de la Roquette riot, wrote on his Facebook page that the whole scene looked like a re-enactment of the storming and torching of the Great Synagogue in Tunis during the Six-Day War in 1967: a traumatic event that accelerated the flight of Tunisian Jews to France or to Israel.
"What I have seen today," he remarked, "is Arab hatred against Jews. Pure hatred. Right in the middle of Paris. Don''t try to ''explain'' or ''understand'', it was hatred, period."
Aurelie A. spoke to her father about the assault on La Roquette. " I asked him if he had ever seen any such clashes," she wrote in an article in the Tablet.
He answered, "yes.... In Algeria, before leaving it all behind... He added: but we were in Algeria, here we''re in metropolitan France!!"
In truth, long before Jews in Arab countries became hostages to the conflict and bore the brunt of Arab frustration and anger over Palestine, Jews were victims of anti-Jewish riots and massacres.
Take the Constantine pogrom, 80 years ago this week.
Jealousy and resentment of the Jews had been building among the Muslim masses of Algeria since the passing of the 1870 Decret Cremieux, which gave Jews French citizenship.
It all started on 3 August 1934 with a brawl involving a Jewish drunk and a small group of Muslims. The Jew, a soldier, was accused of urinating inside the famous Constantine mosque of Sidi Lakhdar. The Muslims headed for the Jewish quarter of the town, attacking Jewish passers-by and wrecking shopfronts. Some Jews defended themselves. Fired up by the death of one Muslim, a furious mob returned the next day and invaded the marketplace. Rioters broke into Jewish homes and strangled their occupants. Whether by accident or by design, the French police and military failed to intervene.
By the time the deputy Mayor, M Morinaud, appeared on the scene, 28 people had died - mostly women, old people and children. Damage to property was put at 150 million Francs-Pointcare, affecting 1,777 people.
In 1962, when Algeria gained its independence after a bloody war, Jews understood that they were not welcome. The community of 160,000 Jews fled - lock, stock and barrel - to France.
Now it looks like France gave these Jewish refugees just a temporary respite from persecution. For the second time in a generation, Jews are moving on.
Your comment must be approved by a moderator before being published on JPost.com.
Disqus users can post comments automatically.
Comments must adhere to our Talkback policy. If you believe that a comment has breached the Talkback policy, please press the flag icon to bring it to the attention of our moderation team.